Robyn Denny 1930-2014
Born in Surrey, Denny studied in Paris and at St Martin’s School of Art, spending two years in the Royal Navy on national service before going to the Royal College of Art in 1954. Robyn Denny was one of a legendary group of British artists, including Barbara Hepworth, William Turnbull, Peter Blake and Richard Smith, who studied at the Royal College. This group became intent on revitalizing contemporary British Art with an urban vitality.
Influenced by Abstract Expressionism and French Taschisme, his early work was characterised by a fusion of influences and he developed a tessellated quality to his abstraction in incorporating letters and layering colour. After seeing the new American art of the epoch, he became particularly inspired by American films, popular culture, typography and the Beat Generation poetry. This inspired him to question the language of painting and to look at the interplay between semiotics and mark making.
Denny was involved in a number of significant exhibitions and public projects, including a mural for the Austin Reed store in Regent Street which read ‘Great Big Biggest Wide London’ which rose to prominence after the Beatles famously posed in front of it for some publicity photographs. He was also involved in the renowned ‘Situation’ exhibition, (the word referring to ‘The Situation in London now’) in the 1960’s. This exhibition, in the words of art historian David Mellor, gave rise to ‘some of the most accomplished abstract paintings made in Britain in the twentieth century’.
There is a distinct graduation from fragile, often mixed media, abstract works to smooth, hard edged geometric pieces in his work from 1950’s to the 1970’s. He was the youngest artist to ever have a retrospective at the Tate by 1973 and his work is currently represented in a number of public collections internationally, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Gallery, London and MoMA, New York.